Korean Catholics welcome exoneration of executed activists

The Korean Catholic Human Rights Committee has hailed a decision by a Seoul court to exonerate eight pro-democracy Korean activists who were executed 32 years ago on trumped up treason charges.

Speaking after the Seoul Central District Court ruled that the eight leaders of Inhyeokdang (People's Revolution Party) were not guilty of conspiring to topple the then government, Korean priest Fr Bartholomew Moon Jung-hyon who fought together with the activists' family members to reveal the truth told UCA News that "finally, the truth has emerged".

"But I'm extremely sad. ... The dead cannot be brought back to life," he said.

In 1974, the eight were charged with inciting revolt and violating the Emergency Measures, the National Security Law and the Anti-Communism Law. They were sentenced to death and hanged on 9 April 1975, just 18 hours after the Supreme Court rejected their appeal.

In December 2000, the National Intelligence Service announced that its predecessor, the Korea Central Intelligence Agency, had fabricated the charges in the Inhyeokdang case.

Families of the eight activists applied for a new trial in December 2002 and the Seoul court started the trial in March this year.

"Thirty-two years ago, nobody talked about the case and nobody helped us. We were the 'unacceptables' and I was labelled a subversive," Fr Moon, a founding member of the Catholic Priests' Association for Justice, added.

Fr Moon said that after the executions, police tried to bring the bodies to a crematorium to burn them and cover up traces of torture. The priest recalled that his leg was injured when he intervened to stop them.

Then-Major General Park Chung-hee took control of South Korea through a military coup in 1961. In 1974, students of Mincheonghangnyeon, or the Democratic Youth and Students' Association, launched an anti-dictatorship campaign.

The government responded by putting more than 180 students on trial in a military court. The late Bishop Daniel Tji Hak-soon, then bishop of Wonju, was sentenced to 15 years in prison that year for allegedly helping the group. He was released the following year, after spending seven months in jail.

The government had accused Inhyeokdang of masterminding an alleged plot by the students' group to overthrow the government with the help of North Korea.

Maryknoll Fr James Sinnott, an American priest who was expelled from South Korea in April 1975 for allegedly giving "misinformation" on the Inhyeokdang case to foreign journalists, has been back in the country since 2002.

"We have waited for this decision for a long time. Now it's time for the South Korean government to apologise to the dead and the bereaved, and to compensate (the bereaved) for their sufferings," he told UCA News.

Rights Advocates Hail Innocent Verdict 32 Years After Activists Were Executed (UCA News, 31/1/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Korean Democracy Foundation
Catholic Bishops Conference of Korea
Park Chung Hee (Wikipedia)

Korean diocese in bid to double number of Catholics (CathNews, 8/11/06)
Korean Christians unite to help bring together North and South (CathNews, 17/1/03)

1 Feb 2007